By Michele Azzu
Cuts to the disabled and other dependents are the most striking case. But all the actions of the Italian government in social policy resemble the wrath of God. They are policies that make us a country that is not only more unjust, but poorer.
For a week 70 severely disabled members of the ‘Committee on 16 November’ carried out a hunger strike to stop the cuts to government funds for dependent people, including severely disabled, the elderly and infirm. Salvatore Usala, Secretary of the committee, is one of those 70. Living in Montserrat, near Cagliari, and for eight years paralyzed by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, he communicates through a computer. On 31 October he went to see Labour minister Elsa Fornero and Health minister Renato Balduzzi.
Usala says: “They have not quantified the resources that the government will provide for dependent disabled people. Nor have they hidden that among the doves, there are hawks.’ Fornero and Balduzzi would be the doves, we don’t know who the hawks are. The Minister of Labour, broke down in tears when announcing spending cuts on 31 October. Yet Elsa Fornero, with the labour market reforms, cut social protection. It doesn’t matter who the hawks are: the line of the Monti government in social policy is the continuation of that of the previous Berlusconi government: citizens are left to fend for themselves, welfare is matter for families and individuals to sort out alone.
Disabled people are not alone: in addition to cuts to funding for dependent people, there have been cuts to the National Fund for Social Policies. This fund has been cut from €923 million in 2008 to €44 million in 2013. Overall funding for social policies have been reduced from €2.5 billion in 2008 to €1.5 billion in 2010, to only €200 million for 2013. And there are cuts in general transfers to local government, which together with spending limits imposed by a domestic ‘Stability Pact’ mean that ‘municipalities are already telling us that there are certain services they will not longer be able to provide,’ minister Fornero has stated.
On top of this is the sting in the latest budget (Stability Law): VAT will rise from 4 to 10 per cent for cooperatives that provide social services to municipalities, there are cuts to the carers’ allowance, an income tax on war invalids, €600 million cuts to health care. All of these measures have been rejected by the Italian parliament’s Committee on Social Affairs. And soon there will be a reform of ISEE, the economic indicator that decides whether families gain access to social benefits, school textbooks, scholarships and so on.
There are families of disabled and dependents who cannot afford the help that is needed. There are poor families that municipalities cannot help. There is the issue of childcare that from Turin to Bologna has been privatized. These enormous social costs deliver almost negligible savings for the state coffers – 0.46% of GDP. But for families, especially women, they represent punishing cuts. They create a cycle of poverty that is self-perpetuating: “Disability or [physical] dependency is a determining factor of poverty,’ explains Peter Victor Barbieri, president of the Italian Federation for Overcoming Handicaps.
On October 31 Barbieri was in Rome’s Piazza Montecitorio, along with other associations that organized the demonstration “Welfare grows, Italy grows.” Anpas, Auser and Cipal and other charities active in delivering services for the elderly and other dependent people want to see cuts to funds for dependent people reversed.
Barbieri says: ‘We wanted to send a strong signal after the hunger strike of 70 disabled people,’ he says.
‘The Monti government cuts continue the policies of [Berlusconi’s finance minister Giulio] Tremonti but one thing is important: even before the cuts [European statistics agency] Eurostat placed us 24th for social spending out of 27 European countries.’
In Italy, ‘private welfare’ is widespread, with the elderly relying on a caregiver, and many disabled persons cared for by the family, ‘especially by women, a throwback to the 1950s’, adds Barbieri. Disabled and dependent elderly people account for 5 percent of the population, some 2.8 million, but only a tiny fraction are covered by state support, with 2.6 million excluded.
Espresso, 02 November 2012
Translated/edited by Revolting Europe